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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
December
04
Tuesday
Peter Ford
Global correspondent

The violent images of rioters in Paris setting cars alight and pillaging shops last weekend have shocked people around the world. But as someone who lives in Paris, I saw something else in the flames – a potent mixture of the past and the future.

Political tumult is a long Parisian tradition; people were building barricades here in the 16th century, and the city has a rich history of insurrection; a popular uprising overthrew the French monarchy in 1789, of course, but other revolts unseated three other governments in the century that followed. And more recently there was May 1968, when radical Parisian students led an assault against the authorities.

Those uprisings had leaders to organize them. You could call the current wave of anger – first sparked by a fuel tax increase – “Les Misérables 2.0.” It gathered steam on the internet, without leaders, as a very 21st-century phenomenon: a network.

Protesters communicate among themselves mainly on Facebook, in groups with hundreds of thousands of members. They alert each other to the demonstrations they are planning; they post advice on how to block intersections without breaking the law. They act horizontally, the way modern management consultants recommend.

How does a government at the top of a typical, vertically oriented hierarchy cope with something like this, an unstructured movement without a leader to negotiate with? France may be the first country to face that question. It won’t be the last.

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Now to our five stories for today.

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1. At COP24, climate consensus reigns. But what does that really mean?

For some people, climate change is a question of belief. But for the majority of the nations gathering for COP24, it is a matter of scientific consensus, the product of a cumulative and rigorous body of research.

Peter
Francois Walschaerts/Reuters
People in Brussels take part in a ‘Claim the Climate’ march, Dec. 2, demanding Belgian authorities take action during the COP24 summit in Poland.

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With the exception of the United States, the world leaders gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the United Nations' annual climate change conference have all settled on a common language for one of the biggest challenges facing the planet. The premise of the COP24 summit – the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – hinges on acceptance of a scientific consensus on climate change. Some scientists worry that the public’s misunderstanding of scientific terms like “consensus” and “uncertainty” contributes to many misperceptions, amplifying disagreements and casting unmerited doubt. While climate skeptics argue that climate models focus on uncertain extremes, scientists stress that the consensus process actually pushes conclusions toward more moderate projections. “One of the things that happens here is that, because you really want to reach a consensus, these reports tend to be very conservative,” says atmospheric scientist Donald Wuebbles. “So when we make a strong statement – when we say it’s ‘very likely,’ greater than 95 percent certainty, that something is happening – my God, that pretty much says it’s happening.”

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1. At COP24, climate consensus reigns. But what does that really mean?

As leaders from around the world gathered in Poland for start of the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, the scientific consensus underpinning our understanding of global warming and its likely effects through the coming years and decades is a key backdrop.

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24, comes just a couple months after the most recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, focusing on the consequences of exceeding 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F.) of warming.

And just over a week ago, the US government released Volume 2 of its Fourth National Climate Assessment – a major body of work that involved input from 13 agencies and some 300 scientists, and that outlines impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States.

Both documents represent the most authoritative and comprehensive summary of current climate science. And both paint a picture of an increasingly urgent problem.

But just what does consensus mean in a scientific sense? Some scientists worry that the public’s misunderstanding of scientific terms like “consensus,” “theory,” and “uncertainty” contributes to many misperceptions, amplifying disagreements and casting unmerited doubt.

“The word ‘consensus’ is a misleading word, because it is implying there is a negotiation about scientific outcome, and that is absolutely not true,” says Pavel Kabat, chief scientist and research director for the World Meteorological Association, as he prepares for a discussion at the UN conference hall at the “Spodek” (saucer) arena, an iconic landmark of Katowice and one of the most recognized architectural objects in Poland.

Science doesn’t negotiate, Dr. Kabat notes. Instead, the process that goes into creating something like the IPCC report he thinks can be better understood as a “synthesis of the state of the knowledge.”

When the US government released the latest National Climate Assessment on Nov. 23, a day after Thanksgiving, skeptics jumped on it, claiming it overplayed scientific certainty, relied on imperfect models, or was “based on the most extreme model scenario,” as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it.

President Trump’s response to the report – which is mandated by law – was even more succinct: “I don’t believe it,” he told reporters a few days after it was released.

And this week, even as the world’s largest climate forum kicked off, Trump formalized his withdrawal from the international political consensus, making the US the only country at the Group of 20 summit of the world’s industrialized economies in Argentina not to sign a joint statement on climate change until a special clause was added reaffirming the US plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

But that sort of rhetoric, say scientists, contributes to widespread misunderstanding about just how certain scientists are.

“I think part of people’s discomfort with this is that they think it’s the same as, you know, ‘scientists say coffee is good for you; scientists say coffee is bad for you; scientists say this, scientists say that,’ ” says Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and the lead author of Chapter 2 in the assessment.

While there’s always something new to learn about complex atmospheric and climate processes, says Dr. Hayhoe, the fundamental principles behind global warming are both basic and well understood.

“That science is so old and so basic that to deny that science, we would have to be denying basic thermodynamics that explains how our refrigerators and our stoves work and basic nonlinear fluid dynamics that explains how airplanes fly,” she says. “And there’s not a lot of politicians and pundits claiming that airplanes don’t fly or that stoves don’t heat and refrigerators don’t cool.”

Getting to consensus

Hayhoe and other scientists involved in state-of-the-science reports describe a process that involves hundreds of scientists, multiple reviews, public comments, and total transparency. For the most recent volume of the National Climate Assessment, each of the 29 chapters had lead writers and contributing writers – all experts in their field – who made sure they felt comfortable with everything in the chapter. In addition to comments from all authors and multiple federal agencies, the draft went through extensive public review and review by the National Academy of Sciences. Anyone from the public was invited to download and comment on the draft, and authors had to respond to every single comment on the record.

“How much more transparent can you get?” asks Hayhoe.

Czarek Sokolowski/AP
Participants work in a computer room during the COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 4. Some 28,000 people are expected to attend the 2018 UN climate change conference over the course of the summit's two-week duration.

Indeed, rather than feeling like they’re stretching the boundaries of what scientists feel confident about, or looking at “most extreme model” scenarios, many scientists worry that these reports often downplay the risks or are too conservative.

Donald Wuebbles, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois who was the lead author of Volume 1 of the latest US climate report, released last year, notes that in some instances authors of that report scaled back proposed statements to accommodate the views of more temperate scientists.

“One of the things that happens here is that, because you really want to reach a consensus, these reports tend to be very conservative,” says Dr. Wuebbles. “So when we make a strong statement – when we say it’s ‘very likely,’ greater than 95 percent certainty, that something is happening – my God, that pretty much says it’s happening.”

And, as with “consensus,” Wuebbles and others note that the public doesn't necessarily understand what “uncertainty” means in scientific terms. In science, it’s a quantifiable measurement of data variability, and is always present to some extent.

“We use models all the time for developing cars and airplanes and all kinds of other things on our planet, and those models aren’t exact either. They have uncertainties in them,” says Wuebbles.

A ‘lively process’

Some critics of big reports like those from the IPCC or the national assessments have charged that they end up being a sort of “groupthink” process where dissenting voices get filtered out. It’s a claim that the scientists most intimately involved push back against strongly.

“It’s a very lively process. It’s really hard for scientists to agree,” says Valerie Masson-Delmotte, research director at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, speaking near the IPCC pavilion in Katowice. Dr. Masson-Delmotte has contributed to several IPCC reports, and says she often encounters misperceptions about the process: that scientists vote on the findings, for instance, or that they “count papers that agree or disagree.”

Scientists tend to approach the process with critical minds, she says, and with a lot of discussion about potential knowledge gaps or limits to knowledge. And diversity – of scientific background, and country of origin, and age – can make the process even more robust.

“It makes it better when you don’t work in silos,” says Masson-Delmotte. “The outcome is much more rigorous when you have more diversity in the chapter teams.”

Of course, none of this means that climate science – or any science – is “settled.” While big reports emphasize what is known, and where scientists agree, most scientists spend the bulk of their time working on what is unknown, and where they don’t agree. There are plenty of uncertainties with climate change, particularly when it comes to economic costs, localized effects, or the connection to weather events. The big synthesis reports try to make those uncertainties as clear as possible.

And each new iteration of these reports adds to and revises previous analyses, as modeling gets stronger and data and observations are added.

Looking at the changes in sea level predictions from the first IPCC report to the fifth is one example, says Masson-Delmotte. “You can see how satellite measurements have changed the way we look at ice sheets.” Satellite observations, she says, showed fast-flowing ice streams that altered scientists’ previous ideas. “Because you have new observations, you understand better the formation of ice,” she explains. “It’s not yet fully completely understood and modeled, but it changed the way people see ice sheets completely.”

Acknowledging mistakes

Sometimes, scientists do get things wrong. A major paper published in Nature this fall that indicated oceans were warming faster than scientists had believed made news both when it was published, and then when an independent researcher discovered errors in the study that made the conclusions seem more certain than they were.

The report’s authors acknowledged the errors, apologized, and are working to correct them; though they emphasize that they “do not invalidate the study’s methodology.”

It was a mistake jumped on by many skeptics, but “it’s very much part of the scientific process,” notes Wuebbles, adding that outlier results are never enough to change what the state of the science is.

Hayhoe also notes that she sees some irony in the fact that, several years ago, she was a co-author on a study that closely examined 38 contrarian papers that disputed anthropogenic warming.

“We found every single one of those studies had an error in them ... that if it was corrected brought their results in line with the scientific consensus,” says Hayhoe. And yet, she says it was hard to get any interest in study, because people said “it’s not new science.”

In some ways, the process of assembling big, state-of-the-science consensus reports is the opposite of what most scientists do in their regular work, trying to generate new knowledge. But scientists say that process of laying out consensus is still critically important, especially for policymakers. The international assessments on stratospheric ozone were a key piece of getting the Montreal Protocol passed in 1987, says Wuebbles, citing an agreement that is widely credited with shifting the tide of ozone depletion.

And with something that has become deeply politicized, like climate change, Hayhoe emphasizes that most skeptics don’t try to refute accepted facts so much as sow disinformation about the level of uncertainty.

“They understand that they don’t have to convince people that [climate change] isn’t real. All they have to do is convince people that we don’t know, and that is sufficient to delay action,” she says. As a result, she says scientists need to shift how they communicate with the public, focusing about 90 percent of their communication on what they know. “We know it’s real. We know it’s us. We know the impacts are serious and even dangerous. We know our choices matter. And what we don’t know is the potential unpleasant surprises that may result from our inadvertent but unprecedented experiment with the only home that we have.”

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

 

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2. Will British politicians say ‘OK’ to what many consider the mistake of Brexit?

More than two years after British voters chose Brexit, the final deal is being debated in Parliament. But however the vote goes on Dec. 11, many details will remain unresolved.

Peter
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Artist Kaya Mar displays his painting of British Prime Minister Theresa May in front of Downing Street in London, Dec. 4. Ms. May opened five days of Brexit debate before a Dec. 11 vote on the divorce agreement.

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For the first time in British parliamentary history, Members of Parliament held the government in contempt on Tuesday, the first of five days of debate on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It was a remarkable setback for Prime Minister Theresa May, who is facing an uphill battle to persuade her ruling Conservative Party to back her negotiated terms. In 2016, 52 percent of United Kingdom voters chose to leave the EU. Since then, the painful process of untangling more than four decades of legal and economic integration with Britain’s closest trading partners has frustrated many “Leave” voters. “Remainers” have argued that it’s not too late to reconsider a policy that over time is likely to lower living standards in Europe’s second largest economy. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. This could be extended so that Britain can reach a political consensus. But any extension could be protracted since the European Parliament will hold elections in May, and the European Commission’s leadership is due to change next fall. Another year of stop-go talks is likely to swell the ranks of Britons who are resigned to BINO: Brexit In Name Only.

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Will British politicians say ‘OK’ to what many consider the mistake of Brexit?

Members of Parliament in Britain began five days of momentous debate Tuesday on the terms of withdrawal from the European Union. The parliamentary debate and subsequent vote on the Brexit agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May could be a breaking point for her minority government. She faces an uphill battle to convince her ruling Conservative Party to back her amid a string of cabinet resignations and an abortive leadership challenge.

In 2016, 52 percent of United Kingdom voters in a national referendum chose to leave the EU. Since then, the painful process of untangling more than four decades of legal and economic integration with Britain’s closest trading partners has frustrated many “Leave” voters. “Remainers” have argued that it’s not too late to reconsider a policy that over time is likely to lower living standards in Europe’s second largest economy, compared with staying in the EU.

What will MPs be considering and why is it so momentous?

Parliament is being asked to approve Ms. May’s withdrawal deal and a framework agreement for future relations between Britain and the EU. The 585-page withdrawal deal has already been approved by leaders of the 27 other EU members. It still requires the assent of the European Parliament, in which Britain is currently represented.

British MPs are considering the most significant change to Britain’s trade, security, and foreign relations since it entered the European Economic Community, as it was then known, in 1973. And they must do so under huge pressure from both sides of an emotive issue that has divided the nation and the two largest political parties.

The withdrawal deal sets out in detail the terms of Brexit, including the $45 billion owed by Britain to the EU, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and the status of the land border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. It also creates a 21-month transition period after Britain leaves in March that should allow time to agree on the parameters of a future relationship.

The much shorter framework agreement is less contentious, since it is a broad political declaration by both sides. “It sets a direction of travel but is in no sense binding,” says Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative at King’s College London.

What is highly contentious is an arrangement for keeping the intra-Ireland border open in the event that negotiators fail to agree on a permanent trade pact. That arrangement, known as a “backstop,” would keep Britain in the EU’s customs union. It would not be the clean break that pro-Brexit MPs seek and would handicap Britain in forging its own trade deals.

What is the timetable for approving the Brexit deal?

The vote will be held in the House of Commons on Dec. 11 at the end of the fifth day of debate. MPs will first vote on several amendments to the motion to approve the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relations. These amendments could prove decisive in the event of a defeat for May, which many analysts see as a likely outcome.

One amendment that has cross-party support would give MPs the right to block a “no-deal” Brexit, under which Britain leaves without any agreement in place. This amendment passed on Tuesday. Other proposed amendments go further in pushing for a second referendum in the event of a failed vote. May’s government insists that the withdrawal agreement is the only option on the table and that its rejection would mean a no-deal exit.

Even before the debate began there was uproar in Parliament over the government’s refusal to publish in full the legal advice of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox over the Brexit deal. Mr. Cox told MPs on Monday that it wasn’t in the public interest to release it. In response, MPs voted to hold May’s government in contempt, the first time ever in British parliamentary history. 

Which factions are likely to oppose the deal?

The opposition Labour Party says it will vote against the withdrawal agreement because it doesn’t go far enough to protect British workers and companies from the cost of leaving the EU. Behind this stance is a calculation that May’s government could fall and that Labour has a good chance of winning an early election. Some Labour MPs support May’s deal as a better option than crashing out of the EU.

May’s biggest challenge is convincing her own party to approve the deal. Dozens of pro-Brexit MPs have already vowed to vote it down. The most common objection is that the backstop would trap Britain in a position of being subject to EU rules without having a say over them. A minority of Conservative MPs want to defeat the deal as a path to stopping Brexit.

Among the smaller parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, which is allied with the Conservatives, is likely to abstain or vote against the deal. Nor can May count on votes from the Scottish National Party or the Liberal Party. That puts the onus on Conservative whips to cajole their members to support May’s deal as the only realistic path to an orderly exit.

What happens if Parliament votes it down?

The government could try again. One argument is that a sharp fall in Britain’s currency and stock market over the risk of a chaotic Brexit would force Conservative MPs to reconsider, just as the United States Congress blinked in 2008 when the Bush administration pressed for emergency bailout funds. But the parallel is not exact and the market reaction may be muted.

Pro-Brexit MPs have urged May to go back to Brussels and wring more concessions to make the withdrawal agreement palatable to Parliament. Both sides insist that this is the final deal, take it or leave it. But the EU has shown flexibility in handling past crises.

“If this deal is rejected the likelihood is we’d have a slimmed down version without the backstop,” says Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament and a founder of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.

Much depends on the margin of any defeat. Winning back 15 or 20 Conservative MPs is feasible. But a major defection by May’s party would weaken her position as leader and could bring down her entire government if rebel MPs back a no-confidence motion. Labour will be seeking to force an election if the Conservatives are unable to form a minority government.

Is it possible to reverse Brexit at this late stage?

Yes. Campaigners for a second referendum argue that if Parliament is deadlocked then voters should decide on whether or not to accept the Brexit deal. That would leave open the door to staying in the EU. Critics say this would be undemocratic and deeply divisive.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. This could be extended so that Britain can reach a political consensus on what to do. The British government has argued that stopping the clock is impossible without the approval of other EU members. But a senior adviser to the European Court of Justice said Tuesday that the UK could decide unilaterally to halt the Brexit process.

Any extension to Brexit could be protracted, since the European Parliament will hold elections in May, and the European Commission’s leadership is due to change next fall. Another year of stop-go talks is likely to swell the ranks of Britons who are resigned to a BINO (Brexit In Name Only) that fails to fully disengage from the EU.

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3. Who owns the view? North Dakotans tangle over proposed wind project.

Wind power is booming in North Dakota, even as the industry flags in other states. But as turbines spread, they are raising novel questions about property rights and how to be a good neighbor.

Peter

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North Dakota is in many ways an ideal location for wind power. For one thing, it’s the windiest of all US states. In recent years, many in this energy-diverse state have capitalized on that resource. But for others, the prospect of yet another wind project comes with a cost: a marring of the wide open plains that make the region so ideal for wind development in the first place. In Burleigh County, a proposal for a 70-turbine farm has pitted neighbor against neighbor. For David Day, a fourth-generation rancher, “It just boils down to the property rights. And you ought to be able to do what you want with [your] land.” But for others, that singular view of property rights ignores how one landowner’s decision might affect another’s ability to earn a living. “By putting a wind farm right here, I really feel it would stifle development in our area,” says Julie Hornbacher, who moved to neighboring Telfer Township with her husband in 2002 to start a cattle operation. “[W]ho wants to build a brand new home next to a wind turbine?”

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Who owns the view? North Dakotans tangle over proposed wind project.

When the big wind project came up for a vote in Morton Township, a square of prairie in central North Dakota, township supervisors were in a quandary.

All three supported the project but, as participants, they stood to gain financially. So they kicked the decision to the county commission, which now faces a hornet’s nest of controversy. At the heart of the debate lies a ticklish question:

Do rural Americans have a say in what they see outside their dining-room windows, even if that view extends miles beyond their property lines?

It’s a more profound debate than it might seem, having as much to do with the future of farming communities and land values as it does with aesthetics. And for the wind industry, it poses a sharp challenge. As turbines get ever bigger and more visible as they spread across rural areas, they become more controversial, threatening the industry’s growth.

“Wind energy polls very well,” says Robert Bryce, an Austin-based author of five books on energy and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “People like it, they like the idea of it. But when it comes to having a six- or seven-hundred-foot wind turbine in your backyard, suddenly people aren't so crazy about it.... And the more they [deploy] their taller turbines, the more people are going to see them and the more people are going to object.”

Already in California, the early leader in wind energy, annual growth in electricity generated by wind has slowed dramatically from its double-digit pace in the first half of the decade, according to federal energy data. In eight of the 41 states with wind power, wind generation has actually declined since 2015. That means the industry is increasingly reliant on the Plains states and the Southwest to sustain its land-based growth. (Offshore wind is another potential avenue.)

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
A worker sits on the top of a GE 1.6-100 wind turbine at a wind farm in Tehachapi, Calif., in June 2013. As turbines get ever bigger and more visible as they spread across rural areas, they become more controversial, threatening the industry’s growth.

And if there are the beginnings of a backlash in a wind-friendly state like North Dakota, then that growth is threatened.

“It seems like the mood has changed against it, because there's getting to be so much wind power in North Dakota,” says Republican state Rep. Jeffery Magrum, whose district includes Morton Township.

So far, the wind industry has done well in this energy-diverse state, which is also the nation’s windiest. Wind generation grew nearly 10 percent a year from 2010 to 2015. Since then, annual growth has been more than triple that figure. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that through last year the industry had invested $5.8 billion in the state, supporting 3,000 to 4,000 jobs directly and indirectly, while providing annual land lease payments of between $5 million and $10 million. That has huge appeal in rural areas, especially where population is falling, agriculture is struggling, and opportunities for economic diversification are few.

The industry’s lone defeat here was in the far western part of the state in 2016, where Billings County rejected a 114-turbine wind farm, in part because it could be seen from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

When property rights threaten property values

With gravel roads that stretch for miles and far more cows than people, Morton Township is more rolling frontier than tourist mecca. With 45 people spread among its 36 square miles, it would seem the ideal place for a wind farm. But plunked down in the southeast corner of Burleigh County, which also includes the state’s capital, things are a bit more complicated.

“You can see clear to Bismarck,” says David Day, a fourth-generation rancher standing on a hill overlooking rolling olive-brown grassland. He points out a cloud of turbines to the left of the city, a green-energy project already in operation. A stiff breeze, recorded by a tall white measuring tower nearby, makes the sunny fall day feel cold.

This is the northern edge of a proposed 70-turbine farm mostly in Morton with edges bleeding into adjoining Telfer Township and the next county to the south, Emmons. “You need to diversify,” says Mr. Day, who runs a cow-calf operation. He’s become such an ardent supporter of the proposed wind project that the developer, German-owned Pure New Energy USA, has made him an employee.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/FIle
Workers prepare to climb the 260-foot windmill tower to repair a turbine in Judith Gap, Mont., in December 2008. In North Dakota, the American Wind Energy Association estimates investment in wind energy has helped support 3,000 to 4,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

Part of it is personal: Day stands to gain about $200,000 a year in lease payments for the turbines that would be built on his 4,000 acres of land. He also sees it as a boon for many rural areas, providing money for schools and helping maintain roads.

But in the past two years, as local opposition to the project has mounted, his focus has narrowed. “It's even gotten to the point I don't even think about the money anymore,” Day says. “It just boils down to the property rights. And you ought to be able to do what you want with [your] land.”

From the porch of his inn, Jerry Doan can see the same white measuring tower that Day has pointed out and it fills him with dread, because the turbines under consideration would be three times taller.

The two men have much in common. Their ancestors both homesteaded here in the 1860s. They’re Trump supporters, ranchers, and eager to diversify – Day through wind and Mr. Doan through agritourism and sustainable food. One irony: Day, a supporter of fossil fuels, has embraced the green-energy project with a vengeance; Doan, a passionate supporter of sustainable agriculture, is against it.

“I get it,” says Doan of Day’s concerns about property rights. Through the years he has lobbied state legislators for various agricultural groups. “I spent my life fighting in the legislature for farmers’ rights,” he says. “But a 600-foot wind tower on a 400-foot hill is 1,000 feet tall. And that changes things.”

For example, it dramatically alters the view, which may cost him. Will dozens of tall towers blinking day and night scare away the hunters and other visitors looking to get away from it all at the inn of his Black Leg Ranch? Also, current rules that require wind turbines be set back a certain distance from neighboring residences don’t take into consideration homes that he might build later, which could end up in the shadow of a turbine. “What about my property rights?” he asks.   

This latter concern is driving much of the opposition.

“My main concern is the property value,” says Julie Hornbacher, who moved to neighboring Telfer Township with her husband in 2002 to start a cattle operation. “By putting a wind farm right here, I really feel it would stifle development in our area, because who wants to build a brand new home next to a wind turbine?”

The answer to her question isn’t clear. Looking at 1,198 land sales within a mile of turbines, the late Michael McCann, a Chicago appraiser, found that land values declined an average 28 percent. But several peer-reviewed studies by academics and others find little, if any, impact on property prices once the turbines go in.

Health concerns from turbine noise and sunlight flicker could also drive away residents, even though the industry denies there’s a proven scientific link. The flash of light off the structure or the blades poses a problem for KariAnn Buntrock, who has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder that can be set off by flashes of light, says her husband, Andy. She works from home and cannot drive. If the wind project did go in, the closest turbines could be as close as a quarter mile away.

“For her to not be able to come outside and be restricted to the house ... you can't live like that,” says Mr. Buntrock. “That's part of the reason we live out there, so we can enjoy and take care of that land.” The family would have to move if the project goes forward, he adds.

A town divided

For many in Telfer Township and Emmons County who see population growth and real estate development as an economic engine as Bismarck expands south and east, the turbines don’t seem worth the risk. For those in Morton Township, where the population has grown by exactly three people since 2010, that prospect seems more remote.

“We're getting 40-acre people, I call them,” says Daymon Mills, one of the Morton Township supervisors who kicked the wind-farm decision to the Burleigh County commission because of his participation in the project. “They come out and buy a little plot of land and put up a horse barn and stuff like that. Well, they're definitely against [wind turbines] because they think their land values are going to go down and they don't want to see them. Basically it gets down to: They don't want to see them.”

While wind-project opponents claim big majorities in Telfer and Emmons, sentiment in Morton seems more evenly divided. When Mr. Mills ran for supervisor on a pro-wind platform, he won 24 to 17.

“It's just torn the area apart: those who want it and those who don't,” says Day. “The little church that my forefathers helped build here back in the 1880s, the wind company was going to give them all the propane for the church, buy them new stoves and cooktops for their basement kitchen, and no strings attached. [But] the people on the board said: Oh no, we're against the wind farm, so we can't take that kind of donation…. With that in mind, my whole family has pulled out of that church that my family helped build generations ago.”

Wind opponents also regret the standoff. 

“I was really good friends with [Day’s] stepdad,” Doan says. “I’ve said: You could give up a little bit of your wind energy so we could all get along. But they look at me as if I was an idiot.”  Now, he says, the rift won’t be mended in his lifetime. “And I don’t think it will be in my kids’ generation.”

All this will come to a head Dec. 5, when the county commission holds a public hearing on the project in the city’s convention center. The original hearing had to be postponed because so many people showed up – in the hundreds, reportedly – that three rooms of the city/county building in Bismarck couldn’t hold them. Except for rules about setbacks and hours of permitted intermittent light, the commission has little to go on about the right to an uncluttered view and the related impacts it might have on health and property values.

“I think I'd trade the two or three people that I thought used to be good friends for about 40 or 50 that are incredible friends,” Buntrock says.

And there’s some evidence that if the wind project does go through, perhaps the part confined to Morton Township, the bitterness will not be as great as many predict. Earlier this year, an Energy Department survey of some 1,700 residents in 24 states living within five miles of a utility-scale turbine found that only 8 percent had a negative attitude about them while 57 percent had a positive attitude. Even half of those within a half mile were positive or very positive about the turbines compared with 25 percent who were negative or very negative.

In his calving barn, newly rebuilt since a tornado came through, Day talks about a neighbor who opposes the wind project. “We trade services back and forth all the time,” he says, indicating a miniature frontloader parked several feet away. “That’s his Bobcat sitting there.”

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On the move

The faces, places, and politics of migration

4. On Mexico border, asylum-seekers take organizing into own hands

Asylum seekers on the southern US border have to wait weeks to make their applications. In an impressive display of self-help they have taken it upon themselves to keep order in their ranks despite the delays.

Peter

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On the US-Mexico border, Melvin, who fled his home in Central America last summer due to political violence, is reviewing identification cards and passports and assigning numbers. People from countries like Ukraine, Eritrea, and Honduras approach him one by one on a recent morning. They are trying to get their names added to the list of those seeking to meet with US border agents about asylum. The process is entirely volunteer-run, and the men and women who manage The List, as it is called, are all asylum-seekers themselves. It’s an attempt to create a sense of order in a disorganized, potentially chaotic process of entering the US through a legal port of entry to ask for protection. The volunteers aren’t vetted, and say they get nothing – like a better chance of being called – in return. Each tenure typically lasts a few weeks, and ends when the volunteer has his or her number called. One 20-year-old from Honduras approaches Melvin and is told, warmly, to return in a month. “After everything,” says the young man – his father’s murder after missing an extortion payment back home, the risky 15-day trek he made across Mexico – “I really wasn’t expecting this wait.”

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On Mexico border, asylum-seekers take organizing into own hands

In a corner of the plaza leading to the El Chaparral US border crossing, refugees and migrants start gathering in small clusters around 6:30 a.m. for the daily waiting game.

On a recent morning, as a light rain falls, individuals and families with small children arrive and separate into two groups: those waiting to hear whether today will finally be their day – after weeks in limbo – to meet with a US border agent and ask for asylum, and those hoping to get their names on the waiting list.

The process is entirely volunteer-run, and the men and women who manage The List, as the long, black-and-white notebook is known, are all asylum-seekers themselves, hoping to create a sense of order in a disorganized, potentially chaotic process of entering the US through a legal port of entry to ask for protection. They aren’t vetted, and say they get nothing – like a better chance of being called – in return. Each tenure typically lasts a few weeks, and ends when the volunteer has his or her number called.

They face a bottleneck. The US is increasingly relying on a practice at the border called “metering.” It limits the number of asylum-seekers allowed to enter the US each day to launch the asylum-request process, to make the case that they can claim credible fear of returning home. Because of a combination of “zero tolerance” policies and a shortage of judges to hear and process cases, some observers estimate there’s a backlog of more than 1 million such cases in US immigration courts.

That pileup is visible on the Mexico side of the border, too. Metering means a growing number of asylum-seekers waiting – and self-organizing – at US ports of entry.

Melvin, who fled his home in Central America last summer due to political violence, is reviewing identification cards and passports and assigning numbers. People carrying passports from Ukraine, Eritrea, and Honduras, alongside others hailing from troubled Mexican states such as Guerrero and Michoacán approach Melvin one by one to get their names added to The List. People are told not to even show up again for at least a month, the minimum wait before they’re likely to be called for a chance to talk to US agents. Melvin estimates 500 people have had their numbers called in his first week on the job.

Jacob Turcotte and Whitney Eulich/Staff

Later in the morning, a handful of numbers in the 1000s are read from the notebook. The 10 people associated with each number – if they’re present – are swept down the block to meet with an agent. If they miss the call, they’ll be bumped down the list.

Now that the 6,000-strong migrant caravan has arrived in Tijuana, the wait at this port of entry is expected to grow to some two months or more. Already, it’s leading to desperate attempts to cross the border by other means – squeezing through the border fence or trying to swim around the barrier’s end in the Pacific Ocean. (The expectation there is that being stopped by Customs and Border Protection agents will provide an opportunity to ask for asylum on the spot – instead of waiting months in crowded camps and shelters or scrambling to feed one’s family until your number is called.)

“They are being corralled at the border,” says Maritza Agundez, a lawyer with the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, who was visiting a muddy, flooded migrant camp on a recent morning. Part of her volunteer work in Tijuana consists of talking with migrants about their asylum claims and helping them determine whether their case is strong enough to merit waiting and applying for protection in the US versus pursuing opportunities, like permission to work, in Mexico.

“They have the legal right to apply for asylum in the US. That doesn’t mean they will get it – most people won’t,” she says, adding that The List has its benefits, but is imperfect. It's an added layer of bureaucracy in an already long, complicated journey for many here. No officials watch over it and there’s plenty of room for corruption and abuse. There have been allegations of favoritism and racism over whose name is called in the past. The notebook is handed off to a representative of Grupos Beta, part of Mexico's National Institute of Migration, at the end of each day, with the Mexican officials keeping it safe overnight. At some point they’re told how many people the US will see that day, and they pass that information on to the volunteers.

This morning, a young Nicaraguan man who has been volunteering to oversee the notebook stands up to denounce the lack of clarity around the process. One of his allegations is that someone has come to sign up multiple people from Argentina, even though they aren’t actually in Tijuana yet. At one point a Grupos Beta representative looks around panicked, not spotting the notebook. Melvin signals that it's zipped inside his jacket. The Nicaraguan volunteer finishes his speech to a sea of shaking heads but no tangible conclusion, and the registration process begins again.

Once launched, the asylum process itself can range from months to years. The timeline can differ depending on factors such as port of entry, age of applicants, number of beds open in nearby detention centers, and “just luck,” says Sarah Boone Gavigan, an immigration attorney with The Central American Resource Center.

A 20-year-old man in a purple sweatshirt approaches Melvin around 8:30 a.m. He presents his Honduras passport and receives a number. “Come back in a month,” Melvin tells him, warmly.

The young man accepts the slip of paper with his number scribbled on it and then, head down, he turns to walk away. “After everything,” he says – his father’s murder after missing an extortion payment back home, the risky 15-day trek he made across Mexico – “I really wasn’t expecting this wait.” 

Jacob Turcotte and Whitney Eulich/Staff
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5. Black Pete no more? Tide turning against Dutch Santa’s blackfaced helper.

The controversy over Black Pete, Santa Claus’s helper long portrayed in blackface, seems to be as much a tradition in the Netherlands as the holidays themselves. But the debate may have reached a tipping point.

Peter
Eva Plevier/Reuters
Revelers dressed as “Black Pete,” Saint Nicholas's assistant, wore controversial blackface makeup during a traditional parade in Zaanstad, Netherlands, Nov. 17.

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Black Pete, the assistant of Sinterklaas, the Dutch-speaking world's Santa Claus, is tasked with handing out presents to the good children and punishing the naughty. Pete, the tale goes, shimmies down chimneys to perform his mission, becoming sooty – hence his “black” descriptor. But Black Pete performers weren’t just made up to look sooty – they appeared in full blackface, complete with large red lips, golden hoop earrings, and afro wigs. To those unfamiliar with the tradition, Black Pete appeared simply racist – Sinterklaas’s slave. Not long ago, most Dutch celebrants would have denied it. “I think we have reached the tipping point,” says Bert Theunissen, professor of history at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. A dozen years ago, the criticism against Black Pete “was mainly from people outside the Netherlands who saw the blackface and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ” But now there’s a critical mass of people who perceive the tradition as having racist roots, whether or not people who used to celebrate it were racist themselves. “If part of your culture is offensive to a fairly large number of your fellow countrymen,” Dr. Theunissen says, “then the culture needs to change.”

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Black Pete no more? Tide turning against Dutch Santa’s blackfaced helper.

As children pour into this cobblestoned dockside neighborhood, they begin jamming to live Christmas music and charting Santa’s progress on a jumbotron at the annual party to celebrate the arrival of the man himself – Sinterklaas, as he’s known to Dutch speakers in Belgium and the Netherlands – and his faithful helper, Black Pete.

In the Dutch-speaking world, Santa arrives on the scene in mid-November, traveling from Spain where, according to legend here, he spends the off-season, eschewing Arctic climes. He makes the journey by steamboat with his assistant Pete, who is tasked with handing out presents to the good children and punishing the naughty – a job that kind-hearted Santa is loath to take on.

It’s a festive time that culminates this week in the feast of St. Nicholas, when children receive presents. Many of the tiny dancers here are dressed up like Pete in anticipation of the big day, complete with Renaissance-style sateen puffy caps topped with a feather, a nod to the aristocratic Spanish attire of the time. 

It’s a wholesome scene, until the neo-Nazis arrive.

Three markedly different-looking Petes begin circulating among the revelers with bags of candy. Though their ensembles match those of the child Petes, these newcomers also wear blackface, with large red lips, golden hoop earrings, and afro wigs. They are from Voorpost, a right-wing group that has been under surveillance by state security services.

As the newcomers pose for photos with children who come running for treats, burly, skin-headed men hand out pamphlets to the grown-ups: “Politically correct elements of foreign origin” are trying to “ruin a cherished cultural celebration.” The pamphlets urge readers to “Say yes to our real Black Pete.”

This year is perhaps the most fraught version of the Dutch-speaking world's now annual debate over Black Pete. But that may be because the movement to bring an end to the blackface that was once part and parcel of Pete's portrayal appears to be winning. Barely more than a decade ago, accusations that Black Pete was racist were fringe in Dutch society. Today this has become the prevailing view, with defenders of blackfaced Pete increasingly in the minority.

“At this point, If you ‘black up’ and say you love Black Pete,” says Romny Maanen, a Dutch mother of three young children living southwest of Amsterdam, “it’s like you’re saying, ‘I’m a racist and proud of it.’ ”

‘Simply no racial connotations whatsoever’

For many years now, the question of just who is the “real” Black Pete has been the subject of intense debate throughout the Dutch-speaking world – a debate that rekindles annually with the holiday season.

Until very recently, the majority of people portraying Pete in parades, at house parties, and at school celebrations – children included – wore blackface. It was a nod to Pete’s Moorish origin, argued some, who added that he was from Spain, after all. Historians, however, pointed out that Black Pete’s inception went back to the heyday of the highly lucrative Dutch colonial slave trade, which did not end until 1863 – likely making Pete Santa’s slave.

Eva Plevier/Reuters
A Black Pete, Saint Nicholas' assistant, is seen in sooty 'chimney' makeup, rather than the more controversial full blackface, during a traditional parade in Amsterdam on Nov. 18.

Dutch speakers tended to shrug off critics, who where mostly non-Dutch and pointed to appalling racial stereotypes, by saying that everyone needed to relax about a fun party meant to bring joy to children – and that no one was trying to make any racist statements about white superiority.

Bert Theunissen, professor of history at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told the Monitor in 2005 that it is “utter nonsense” to associate Black Pete with racism. “It's a tradition,” he said, that “simply has no racial connotations whatsoever.”

Besides that, many added, everyone knows that Dutch people are very progressive – an argument made by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the self-described “conservative liberal” leader of the country since 2010 who weighed in on the debate.

People who want to “abuse the freedom” of Dutch culture by “attacking gays, harassing women in short skirts, or derogating ordinary Dutch for [being] racists” should just leave, he said. “I can only say that my friends in the Dutch Antilles are very happy when they have Sinterklaas, because they don’t have to paint their faces. When I am playing Black Pete, I am for days trying to get the stuff off my face,” he noted in 2014.

Chimney Pete

Yet it is precisely the strong image that the Dutch have of themselves as progressive that was preventing them from seeing that their behavior was actually pretty racist, says Michael van Zeijl, board member of Majority Perspective, an advocacy group that has been filing lawsuits asking European courts to declare Black Pete a violation of human rights.

Today, Dutch discomfort with Black Pete has been steadily growing, thanks in part to widespread discussion sparked by the comments of the prime minister, which went viral. The vast majority of young people, Mr. Van Zeijl points out, now oppose blackface portrayals of Pete.

In a number of Dutch-speaking towns and schools, Black Pete has a new name: “Chimney Pete,” with soot smudges on his face instead of greasepaint – the result, adults explain, of his trips down the chimney to deliver presents. He has lost the red lips and earrings.

Ahead of this year’s celebration, Dutch public broadcaster NTR announced for the first time that blackfaced Pete would no longer appear in children’s programs in the run-up to the holidays.

“I think we have reached the tipping point,” Dr. Theunissen – the academic who told the Monitor he saw no problems with Black Pete in 2005 – said last week.

A dozen years ago, the criticism against Black Pete “was mainly from people outside the Netherlands who saw the blackface and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I think there was hardly any discussion in the Netherlands itself,” he noted. “We looked on these comments with amazement and said, ‘What do you mean, racist?’ ”

Today, there’s a critical mass of people who perceive the tradition as having racist roots, whether or not people who used to celebrate it were racist themselves. “If part of your culture is offensive to a fairly large number of your fellow countrymen,” Theunissen says, “then the culture needs to change.”

‘I woke up’

The child of an mother of Indonesian descent and a white Dutch father, Ms. Maanen didn’t always feel Black Pete was a symbol of racism. Growing up, she enjoyed celebrating his arrival. “I’m a brown woman, but I never saw it as a problem,” she says.

True, there were some signs of her subconscious discomfort, she notes. “You’re at a party and people say, ‘Shouldn’t you be working tonight? You’re the Black Pete of the evening.’ You laugh” even though it’s not funny. “What can you do? People are just making a joke.”

But she was suffering from “mental colonization,” she says now. “I went to white schools, and we celebrated Black Pete – my whole family celebrated it. You act white to be accepted.”

That all changed the day she went to a Sinterklaas parade with her husband and firstborn child. “My husband is black,” and she could tell he was uncomfortable. “But he said, ‘It’s all good. It’s for the children.’ ”

A Black Pete handing out candy approached her son in a stroller. “He said, ‘That’s a cute Pete. He doesn’t even need to paint his face.’ Once my own child was confronted with this, I woke up.”

For her three children, now 8, 6, and 1, Maanen translates racism as bullying. “I tell them, ‘It’s not nice to be called Black Pete when you’re not Black Pete.’ ” Her children’s school is multicultural, where they celebrate the holiday with Petes of all colors – pink, purple, and blue, but not black.

Over the years, she has had discussions with white friends “who were very pro-Pete.” This year, one of these friends texted her. “She said, ‘I really want to see you and talk about Black Pete.’ I said, ‘I’m not really into it if you’re still radically pro-Pete.’ I’m tired of explaining.”

But Maanen’s friend said she’d had a change of heart. “She asked, ‘How can I celebrate this without racism?’ It was a really nice conversation, and it wasn’t the last one I had this year.”

More work to be done

Maanen and some friends decided to take to the streets this year in her seaside town of The Hague to protest Black Pete – the first time any of them had demonstrated. There, they ran into groups of neo-Nazis. “It was really intense. You’re two feet away from these guys screaming at you, and literally looking racists and racism in the face.”

It was a stark awakening to the existence of racism in what she and many others have long considered to be a highly progressive culture – a fact with which Dutch are increasingly willing to grapple.

“The Netherlands was a colonizing country for 350 years, but after that they presented themselves as country that is so progressive and respects human rights,” says Van Zeijl. The Black Pete debate has helped open the floodgates for the Netherlands to start acknowledging its colonial past, he says. This includes school books with little mention of the Dutch colonial past and slavery. “It’s not just Black Pete. Our history books are whitewashed.”

There is now a movement in Utrecht and other Dutch towns to start “decolonizing” streets named after slave traders. “The Dutch were really big in the slave trade and as a country, we earned a lot of money from it,” Theunissen says. “From a present-day perspective, we would call it war crimes, what they did.”

Still, this growing awareness has not resulted in completely linear progress. Many Dutch towns continue to portray Pete in blackface, and the highly lauded move by NTV to drop blackface Pete did not turn out the way some had hoped.

To assuage vocal Black Pete supporters, the station settled on an equation of 75 percent “Chimney Petes” and 25 percent “Black Petes,” explaining that the more often Pete goes down the chimney, the blacker he gets.

Maanen shakes her head. “It’s not like a little racism is okay,” she sighs. Majority Perspective’s Van Zeijl for his part calls it “racism light – which is actually more racist,” he argues, “because they’re acknowledging the racism but saying, ‘We’re still going to do it.’ ”

The station for its part conceded, if not the paradox of its policy, the way good intentions can come up short. “We try to take a step every year to gradually follow the change that is in society,” an NTR spokesman told a local newspaper. “Every year [Black Pete will become] a little less black.”

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The Monitor's View

Pauses for peace that may end Yemen’s war

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Ahead of planned talks in Sweden, the two sides in the raging Yemen conflict have exchanged humanitarian gestures. The country’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran, released 14 prisoners to the Yemeni government. Fifty wounded Houthi fighters were flown to Oman for treatment, a move approved by Saudi Arabia, the government’s main backer. The actions were more than confidence-building steps to bridge a chasm of distrust. They also represent a recognition by each side of the core principles of international humanitarian law. Those principles, simply put, are that the violence of war must have limits and that innocent life must be protected. Even the slightest admission that such principles have a role to play in a war seen as a proxy conflict between regional powers is a welcome step. Any negotiations to end Yemen’s war still have a long way to go. But with these latest gestures, talks might go ahead. Ending wars often requires an appeal to conscience as much as pressure from outside. With Yemen’s war at a stalemate, the time may be ripe for such appeals.

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Pauses for peace that may end Yemen’s war

The people of Yemen, according to the prophet Muhammad, have “the most tender minds and the softest hearts.” This week, those qualities showed up in the midst of a raging war that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The two sides in Yemen exchanged humanitarian gestures just before planned talks in Sweden.

The country’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran, released 14 prisoners to the Yemeni government while 50 wounded Houthi fighters were flown to Oman for treatment, a move approved by the government’s main backer, Saudi Arabia.

The actions were more than confidence-building steps to bridge a chasm of distrust created by a brutal civil war that began in 2015. They also represent a recognition by each side of the core principles of international humanitarian law, commonly known as the Geneva Conventions.

Those principles, simply put, are that the violence of war must have its limits and that innocent life must be protected. Even the slightest admission that such principles have a role to play in a war seen as a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a welcome step.

Further gestures of peace are now possible in Yemen, such as more prisoner releases as well as a truce in the port city of Hodeidah. The port is the main access for aid to flow to the three-quarters of Yemen’s population, or 22 million people, who urgently need assistance.

The warring factions in Yemen are already cooperating with foreign relief agencies to prevent attacks on aid stations and hospitals, a process known as humanitarian deconfliction. In August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report making a case that all parties to the conflict are likely to have committed war crimes. This implied a threat of post-conflict prosecution of those who harm civilians. In addition to such threats, Saudi Arabia is under pressure to end its role in the war after the October killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

The principles of humanitarian law, which affirm the innocence of noncombatants, have not only gained wide acceptance among most nations – they are also useful levers in seeking a pause in war fighting and opening possibilities for talks.

Any negotiations to end Yemen’s war still have a long way to go. Talks in 2016 collapsed in part because trust-building steps were not in place. Now, with these latest humanitarian gestures, talks might go ahead.

In a plea to all Yemenis this week, the leader of neighboring Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, mentioned the qualities of the Yemeni people, such as wisdom and faith, cited centuries ago by the Islamic prophet. “Why don’t you use reason when you are the ones who were described as wise?” Mr. Abiy said. “Why do you teach the language of war and fighting rather than the language of dialogue when you are the owners of eloquence?”

Ending wars often requires an appeal to conscience as much as pressure from outside. With Yemen’s war at a stalemate, the time may be ripe for such appeals.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Walking a fine line, or safe in God’s infinite care?

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There are plenty of issues in the news that can make our peace and well-being seem precarious. In today’s column, one woman shares an insight on how greater stability in our lives is a natural outcome of God’s boundless love for all.

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Walking a fine line, or safe in God’s infinite care?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Recently I spent a few days helping my daughter take care of her daughters while their daddy was at a business conference. I was sharing a room with my granddaughter Lily Sue, who is in preschool.

One night she became quite congested, and her coughing wakened both of us. Just about this time her baby sister woke up and wanted to be fed. For about a half an hour the four of us were all together. Mom then scooped up both girls and took them to her room to snuggle so Grammy could go back to sleep.

Instead, though, I felt inspired to stay up praying. I’d seen before how prayer can bring out the power of God’s realness in a way that brings healing.

For two hours I prayed, letting the idea of God as infinite and good settle deeply in thought. Christian Science explains the nature of God through synonyms, such as Spirit, Love, and Life. I took these three and other names for God and considered them from the standpoint of God’s infinitude. For example, Spirit as the boundless animator of each of us, God’s inexhaustible spiritual expression. Divine Life as the indestructible, eternal Divine Being we express. Divine Love that tenderly, unfailingly embraces everyone. More than just nice names, these synonyms point to the activeness of the all-powerful God, good.

As I pondered these, the idea that God is really All became tangible to me; I felt a deep sense of the infinite spiritual goodness God actively expresses in all, including my granddaughter.

Then something came to thought that did not fit with this glorious expansiveness of Love: a notion that people can be subject to circumstances outside of God’s embrace where they are walking a fine line between joy and sadness, health and illness – a precarious and fragile balancing act where peace can be lost.

This notion is pervasive; we see it among those with young families, those with fixed incomes, those responsible for senior family members, those with minimum wage jobs, and beyond. But there’s comfort to be found in the idea that there are no finite edges in the infinite. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, explains, “God is at once the centre and circumference of being” (pp. 203-204).

This is such a profound thing to contemplate. Where would an edge exist in such an “at once”-ness? The all-pervasive atmosphere of divine Love has no outside to it, no ups and downs or ins and outs. A reassuring promise in the Bible declares, “Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). The infinite allness of God, of good, is not a house of cards that can be shaken. Just as the fundamentals of math are forever established, so God’s reign and rule of harmony is permanent, unshakable, and at hand – to be experienced.

The Bible also assures us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The care that God, our Father-Mother, has for His, Her creation is a steady flow of goodness that is not subject to one misfortune after another (or any misfortune). It is the inevitable and permanent outcome of the supremacy and allness of God. Affirming and feeling this divine power is powerful prayer that tangibly reveals God’s care for His creation.

At this point, it was morning. My daughter decided to let Lily Sue sleep in, but suddenly Lily Sue popped up in bed and told her mom, “I want to go to school.” She was clearly free from the coughing and congestion and was feeling well rested, so we quickly mobilized and got her to the bus on time. She had a great day, full of her usual energy.

How wonderful to glimpse that we are secure in the infinitude of the Divine – that despite how it may seem at times, one’s health, resources, strength, and capacities are not precarious at all. Our one and only true circumstance is spiritual, based in the allness of God. We cannot fall off the edge of goodness because we are smack-dab in the measureless middle of Love’s infinite embrace. Even a little understanding of this can bring greater health and harmony into our lives.

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Viewfinder

A call to action

Oded Balilty/AP
A display of hundreds of red shoes spread as a protest of violence against women in Israel at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Dec. 4. A nationwide strike commemorated 24 women and girls killed by a partner, family member, or someone they knew in 2018, with thousands of men and women calling on the government to take action against domestic violence.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 5th, 2018 )

Peter Ford
Global correspondent

Come back tomorrow: About 1 in 7 US households with school-age children still lacks a high-speed internet connection. We’ll have a report on how education officials are trying to address this disadvantage, which disproportionately affects poor, black, Latino, and remote rural students. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 04, 2018
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